May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

winifred christine stainbrook etgen

Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice. 

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10 responses to “May 13 – Shaping Words

  1. This is really beautiful, thank you for these memories for Mother Day

  2. A lovely tribute. The images were very effective shared with the words.

  3. As I read your piece it brought back a flood of memories being the daughter of my own mother who died a year ago at the age of 103. She read stories at bedtime after putting in 12 or 14 day as mother and wife of a farmer. She braided my hair each morning before going to school. She had me wear snuggies to keep warm in the winter. I HATED those things. I think I need to write my own piece about my mother.

  4. thanks for your kind comments, SCN writing sisters. Glad the piece triggered some memories that will enable to write about your own memories.

  5. What a wonderful recognition of your mother! Mine, too, was a powerful influence on my love of language, and you brought back good memories for me. Thanks, Sara!

  6. Thank you for reading the post and sharing your reaction. Good to hear from you. 🙂

  7. Thank you, V.J. for reading the post and for taking the time to write a comment. Enjoy your evening.

  8. Sally Chetwynd

    I’m blessed to still have my mother, very much alive and active at age 93. (I have to make an appointment to go visit her, to make sure she’ll be there!) We are quite a team when we get together. We have progressed to the point where she only needs to tell me what we need to do, and we go at it, hardly having to consult about it at all, and before we know it, our work is done. I cherish that time. I do projects for her and she feeds me fish. It doesn’t get any better than that!

  9. sara etgen-baker

    Sally–thanks for sharing a bit about your relationship with your mother and the times you both seem to cherish. You are indeed blessed to have your mother still alive. Truly, not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother and relish the memories as if she were still here with my physically. Hers was a timeless, enduring love. I was fortunate to have such a mother. Thanks for your comment! Warm wishes!

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